Agamben’s cinema: Psychology versus an ethical form of life

Author(s): Harbord, Janet


Agamben’s essay on gesture is perhaps his most influential piece of work for film studies, in which he argues that cinema at its inception captures the moment at which humans have lost control of their gestures, manifest in a crisis of communicability. Comparing the traces of the gesticulating bodies of Gilles de la Tourette’s patients with those in the proto-cinematic series of photographs taken by Eadward Muybridge, Agamben suggests that these are the twin processes of a biopolitical production of life; respectively, the body as the site of investigation and the exemplary body put to work. Yet the ethico-political implications of Agamben’s essay on gesture and the biopolitical production of life are relatively under-developed. This article pursues not only cinema’s relation to biopolitical capture but also the way in which cinema came to compensate for such a reductive version of corporeality by constructing the concept of an individual located as complex interiority. When gestural communication declines at the close of the 19th century meaning is relocated to the internal space within the human body; commensurate with this production of human interiority as a site of truth, cinema becomes a machine whose task is to decipher the turmoil of the inside, a process reproduced as narrative explication.

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Preferred Citation
Harbord, Janet: Agamben’s cinema: Psychology versus an ethical form of life. In: NECSUS. European Journal of Media Studies, Jg. 4 (2015), Nr. 2, S. 13-30. DOI:
 author = {Harbord, Janet},
 title = {Agamben’s cinema: Psychology versus an ethical form of life},
 year = 2015,
 doi = "\url{}",
 volume = 4,
 address = {Amsterdam},
 journal = {NECSUS. European Journal of Media Studies},
 number = 2,
 pages = {13--30},
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